Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Turtles in the East Trail Pond

It was turning out to be a warm afternoon compared to the chilly days we’ve been having in early April. Plus the sun kept getting stronger, and the wind dying off. So I decided to go to the East Trail Pond and watch Blanding’s turtles before the sun went down enough to shade the portion of the pond below the high rock ridge on the north side of the pond. I have been seeing Blanding's turtles in various versions of the East Trail Pond for the past 15 years. And this version provided one of the best set ups for viewing especially since the beavers have been raising the water level and cutting back some of the shrubs that used to limit the view. After I sat down I didn’t have to wait long to see some action. I saw what I took as two painted turtles swimming together in the water and then seeming to briefly lock heads and turn together. They quickly separated and one swam off into the deeper part of the pond and the other swam over to an island of dead grass. It crossed my mind that the turtle that swam away might have been a Blanding’s turtle. Then I saw a large Blanding’s turtle, yellow chin facing me, on some mud on the nearer side of that island of dead grass.

Then I saw another Blanding’s turtle surface a little behind the one I first saw.

Then another painted turtle climbed up next to the first one I saw. The second Blanding’s turtle crossed the little island, and swam up to the back of the painted turtles, but didn’t make much of an impression. It backed into the water and swam to the front of the turtles and raised its bright yellow chin at them.

The painted turtles turned away slightly. Then the Blanding’s turtle backed off again and swam away.

Not long after that, I saw another Blanding’s turtle, I assumed, crawling up on a clump of grass several turtle lengths from the large Blanding’s turtle that had been largely immobile for the last half hour or so.

It turned its head enough so that I could see its yellow chin.

Then a painted turtle began to surface a bit in front of the Blanding’s that had just climbed up on the grass clump. The Blanding’s pointed its head toward it and the painted turtle backed away. The smaller turtle pulled itself up on grass a little farther away. The Blanding’s kept leveling a stare at it,

And the painted turtle backed away and swam off. Then the Blanding’s turtle slowly crawled forward and then into the water and swam over to the larger turtle and crawled up next to it.

The larger, and dry turtle, didn’t seem to bat an eye. The interloper then moved a little closer coming up behind the dry turtle, that still didn’t seem to bat an eye. At the same time that painted turtle climbed up on a clump of grass a bit farther off. Enjoy the slow moving video of the turtles’ busy afternoon.

Meanwhile, briefly interrupting the turtle drama, a muskrat swam up to the two painted turtles that had been sunning at the far end of the small grass island, and gave them a sniff that got all three animals twitching.

The muskrat swam on between the two Blanding’s turtles, still at their farthest point of separation and neither of them seemed to react at all.

I tried to sneak away so as not to disturb the turtles,and I think I managed to do it.

Eleven days later on April 18 we headed off to have lunch with the Blanding’s turtles at the East Trail Pond. While it was sunny, there was a gusty wind and out of the sun it was a bit chilly. Two days ago it got well into the 80s, too hot to hike at this leafless time of the year, but now it was back down around 50F. We went via Antler Trail and then the South Bay trail where we heard a phoebe. Going up through the woods on the East Trail we heard pine warblers. As we eased down the ridge to the rock where I usually sit to watch turtles, I saw two Blanding’s turtle out on a little mud island 10 yards out in the pond. But we weren’t easy enough and before we got to the rock both turtles hurried into the pond and disappeared. We sat down in the shade and scanning the pond, I saw a large Blanding’s turtle sharing a clump of grass with a smaller turtle, likely a painted turtle.

A few minutes later I saw a Blanding’s turtle on a clump of grass near the lodge

It was soon joined by a Blanding’s turtle of equal size. But these turtles on far flung clumps were too far away to enjoy. Soon enough we saw a Blanding’s turtle swimming right toward us

and it tried to climb up on a small floating log without much success.

Then it swam up the north shore of the pond where we couldn’t see it. However, Leslie saw enough of its long yellow neck as it tried to climb up on the log, and she moved up the ridge to try to see one of the pine warblers and other birds. Then I saw a Blandings swimming away from me, as if it was one of the turtles scared off the little mud island when we came down the ridge and now it thought it safe to surface as it continued to swim away from danger. One trouble with watching turtles is that because they move so slowly, you have plenty of time to over think what they are doing. However, in this case my next prediction came true. Soon enough the turtle began swimming to the west and then turned north and then pulled itself up next to some shrub stumps and looked hard in my direction.

It stayed put there for several minutes affording me time to over think some more. I had assumed the we scared the turtles off their little mud flat. Then I saw that a huge snapping turtle was right up against that mud flat. I noticed it when it suddenly moved back and swam away from the mud and me. Maybe the advances of that snapping turtle, coincident with our arrival, scared the Blandings off the flat. As I videoed the snapper's swim, a small painted turtle swam over and swam over the huge snapper as if it wanted to hitch a ride

until the snapper slowed and began to turn its head back. The small turtle quickly swam away.

The snapper swam on until it found a clump of grass to move into, good camouflage for what ever it was up to, catching unwary frogs, I suppose.

The leopard frogs were croaking a bit so we all knew they were out there. While that was happening the Blanding’s turtle looking at me swam to the east and climbed up on a little island of moss a few feet closer to me than the mud flat. It still tended to look in my direction, even though, as I didn’t notice until I took a hard look at the photo I took with my camcorder, a small painted turtle was cowering back in its shell just to the right of the Blandings.

While a Blanding’s turtle basking in the sun doesn’t do much save move its beautiful yellow bottomed neck that in itself is enough to entrance me. As I said, I didn’t notice the small turtle at first, but couldn’t ignore it when I saw it crawling out of a hole, in which it fell, in the middle of the moss island, an island shaped like a volcano by the way, and the small painted turtle wiggled out its head and half its shell.

Then I got a lesson, I guess, in turtle pecking order. The much larger Blanding’s turtle finally seemed to notice the small painted turtle and its yellow neck loomed high over it. I thought the small turtle squirmed. Then the rapid approach of a full size painted turtle changed that dynamic. That turtle climbed up on the moss island and lurched toward the small painted turtle and it began to turn away from the intruder. Then the larger painted turtle turned toward the Blanding’s turtle who overlooked the contretemps of the small turtles.

I guess something in the Blanding’s demeanor spelled trouble for the intruder and it quickly dropped back in the pond and swam away,

letting the odd couple to reign over the island in sunny peace. Then I saw another Blanding’s turtle swimming from the vegetation in the middle of the pond to this more open area of little islands. It climbed up on a smaller mossy island. Like the usual Blanding’s it stretched its neck out to get a look around, and the angle of my view gave me a look at its bottom shell which looked concave which, if true, means it’s a male.

This turtle was not as big as the one on the moss island and I suspect that the male turtles who climb on top during mating are generally smaller. The turtles were about two yards apart and I had no trouble convincing myself that they were looking at each other. Even the little painted turtle had turned to look at the new comer.

Then another Blanding’s turtle swam toward me. It looked smaller than the others and it tried to climb up on the log floating in the water below, but like the other turtle an hour ago couldn’t climb up on it. It floated in the water below me.

Then it swam toward where the other turtles were and climbed up on a small clump of grass not fully out of the water. The large Blanding’s turtle a few feet away turned to look at it.

It stretched its neck in the direction of the other turtles.

The video below compresses many minutes of observations into an action packed turtle saga.

Then the action really began. I was sitting so that I could see the upper otter latrine to my left and also where the big red oak fell. The noon day sun was warming most of the pond but the rock below the latrine faced the east and the area was probably getting shady. I heard a big plop and saw a large turtle swim away and I assumed it was a snapper. But when it got out in the pond before me, I saw that it was another Blanding’s. It swam directly toward the smaller Blanding’s that had just climbed up on the soggy grass island. As Blanding’s turtles swim they frequently get their nose out of the water giving the impression that they know what they are doing. Both snappers and painted turtles seem to me to swim under water longer with out getting bearings from surfacing. Anyway, while it poked its head out of the water a few yards from the smaller turtle, it didn’t even break the surface as it scared the smaller Blanding’s off its toe hold under the sun. It did not climb up on the abandoned spot which was a sorry excuse for a basking ground. It swam around the moss island where the large Blanding’s reigned. However, it did pause on the west side of the island seemingly getting the measure of that situation. Then it circled around the island pausing frequently to exchange glances with the larger turtle

and swam directly to the Blanding’s sitting on a smaller moss island and climbed up high enough to directly confront it causing the turtle to turn away.


Then it backed away and climbed up on a smaller bit of moss behind the other turtle.

Blanding’s turtles commonly share tight little islands for basking in the sun but this invader had something else in mind. It stretched its head toward the back side of the other turtle, even dipping it nose into the water, causing the other turtle to turn and even withdraw its head a bit back into its shell. Even though I had earlier opined that the turtle sunning itself was a male, as the aggressive turtle tried to sniff its tail I got the new impression that a male was on the make.

The female turtle, which I could see now was much larger than the male, turned its tail back toward the male that looked rather low down interested in her tail.

The chase was on, and I should add that painted turtles kept swimming in and out of the picture. Indeed, the little painted turtle that looked so warm and protected on the big moss island swam over as if to get a closer look.

The female slowly climbed up a clump of grass and the male kept his nose close to her tail.

When the female got over the clump of grass and then the male climbed up, I thought they were perfectly positioned for mating. But I have seen Blanding’s mating before and they were both in the water. Of course, in the water it would be easier for the male turtle to keep on top of the other. The chase seemed to end when the female got onto the relatively large mud flat, where I saw the turtles when we first approached the pond. The male positioned himself behind her but a little to the side, his nose no longer menacing her tail.

I had been watching the turtles for about two hours, and although I took the precaution of peeing before I started watching, I also ate a juicy lunch at the beginning of my vigil and I had to pee again. I held off for as long as I could. I tried to retreat as quietly as I could, as much like a turtle as I could. But even before I got up from all fours I heard one turtle dive -- the large one that had been basking longest. As I peed behind a small pine tree, I heard all the other turtles flee. I hope I didn’t interrupt anything. I won’t add that the turtles have a long summer ahead of them, plenty of time for basking in the sun and courting. I’m not so sure. I won’t calculate what any interruption means in their slow motion lives. I have watched turtles here in the other Springs but never saw this many Blanding’s. I think it reflects the drying of the interior of the island because there are fewer beavers. But I should spend a couple hours at the Lost Swamp Pond which is now relatively low where I regularly saw turtles including Blanding’s.

During the week after those sightings we had heavy rains. The beavers did their best to build up the dam.

The pond’s water level continues to rise which means all the muck flats and moss islands where I saw Blanding’s and painted turtles are flooded. Beaver dams certainly are a boon to other wildlife, but fluctuating water levels are not always convenient. Judging from the stripped logs there, the beavers were enjoying the portion of the pond where I had seen the turtles. What had become too deep for turtles was just the right depth for beavers to haunch up and strip bark off logs.

In a few minutes I saw a small painted turtle swim to one of those stripped logs and try to climb up.

Then I saw a much bigger turtle swimming under water which showed no interest in sticking its nose up, much less surfacing, so I think it was a snapping turtle. A smaller painted turtle tried to climb up another log and just when it almost got aboard the log spun sinking the turtle. It tried again and again with the same result.

But the spinning log was moving in the water and if it got braced by a shrub, the little turtle might make it. I saw a large turtle on a small clump of higher ground and it looked like a Blanding’s but I really couldn’t see the yellow chin. Finally a good size turtle swam under water away from me. It looked more like a Blanding’s than a snapper or painted, but I couldn’t see its chin either. So some turtle hi-jinks today but no drama. Then looking off to the west I saw that one of the ash trees the beavers had been cutting fell onto the ridge.

If it was an oak, I think the beavers would climb up on the ridge to get to the bark, but ash trees have never been that attractive to these beavers. Then as I walked in the woods about 20 yards from the pond, heading toward the beavers’ work on the south shore, I finally saw a Blanding’s turtle and it was not any bigger than the average oak leaf.

I have never seen a Blanding’s turtle this small and it was quite a beauty.

I didn’t see it move and it didn’t seem that wary of me. I have no idea where it should be going. There is another pond 40 yards off in the direction it was pointed. So I left it alone and wished it well. If all the carrying-on of the bigger turtles was indeed mating, this little beauty made a fitting end to my spring with the turtles, though I have no idea how old it is, maybe just a year old.

No comments:

Post a Comment